Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Book of Fate

Book Review

Iran witnessed revolutions based on communism as well as Islam.  Like all revolutions, they had their share of bloodshed and frenzy, narrow perspectives and flatulence.  Revolutions make heroes of some and victims of many others.  Opportunists fish in the troubled waters and reap rich dividends.  In the end, nothing really changes for the majority for whom one form of oppression is replaced with another.

In The Book of Fate, Persian writer Parinoush Saniee tells us the story of both the revolutions that rocked Iran.  The story is narrated by Massoumeh who is a young school-going girl at the beginning of the novel.  She is 53 at the end.  The novel is essentially about her painful experiences in a country which has too many rules for women.  Girls are meant only for procreation and education is not required for that.  Girls should not reveal their teeth while laughing, nor can they laugh loud.  They are not even allowed an identity: their face has to be concealed behind the veil.  The father, then the husband, and then the sons – there’s always a man who will determine how the woman should live.  The novel is a scathing critique of the various forms of oppression that the women are made to undergo from childhood till death.

Massoumeh is not allowed to marry the man whom she loves.  Her brothers who claim to be very religious choose her husband.  Their original choice is a butcher with no sense of morality or respect for others.  Thanks to a more sensible neighbour, with whom one of the brothers of Massoumeh has an illicit affair, Massoumeh gets a better husband in the person of Hamid.  Hamid is a communist revolutionary, however, and has absolutely no sense of family obligations.  He thinks that a revolutionary should have no attachments to family members. 

While Hamid is blinded by ideology, Massoumeh’s brothers are blinded by religion.  Hamid will eventually become a hero for a brief period when Communists secure certain supremacy in the country.  But he will finally meet the fate that awaits revolutionaries in general.  One of the religious brothers of Massoumeh will succumb to drug addiction and another becomes an opportunist who will make his profits whether it is the Communists who are leading or the religious fundamentalists. 

“Every human being has the right to decide how to live his or her life.”  That’s the dominant theme of the novel.  But the novel shows how this right is denied to most individuals, especially the women in Iran, by religious leaders.  The novel also shows the hypocrisy of the religious leaders many of whom are really not motivated by religion.  Even if they are, they have little understanding of the religion. 

The novel is a moving tale which has its moments of dramatic heights and intellectual depths.  Towards the end it becomes slightly preachy and Massoumeh’s ‘lectures’ may remind us of the powerful sermons delivered by some of Ayn Rand’s characters.  Sample this:

People love creating heroes.  They make someone big so that they can hide behind them, so that he will speak for them, so that in case of danger he will be their shield, suffer their punishments and give them time to escape. 

Such rhetoric notwithstanding, the novel is a powerful tale which grips the reader’s attention right from page one to the last.  It is easy to read.  It forces us to take a different look at ideologies such as Communism and also at religion in its various avatars.  It makes us wonder why most human pursuits, ideological or religious, tend to be highly superficial in the final analysis.  It makes us wonder why simple goodness is condemned to become a victim in the world of ideologues and religionists. 

Sara Khalili’s translation is fairly good though there are places where the sentences sound awkward.  That’s not a serious flaw, however. 

The novel is published in India by Hachette.
Pages: 447
Price: Rs 399

The English translation was originally published in Great Britain in 2013


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